regular-article-logo Tuesday, 23 July 2024

Sliver of hope

In China, if death sentence is handed down without reprieve, the Supreme Court must approve the execution. Last year, the government enacted a legal aid law for those who can’t afford lawyers

Neha Sahay Published 05.05.23, 06:18 AM

Sourced by The Telegraph

Amid a spate of recent executions in China, one death sentence has been overturned. A young man was to be executed for having killed two persons to whom he owed money by driving his car, in which they were co-passengers, into a pond in 2015. Thanks to his lawyer, the 33-year-old is now being regarded only as a suspect in the case. His lawyer could prove to the Supreme Court that it was not possible for a car to be driven at high speed on a mud road. The car’s condition also didn’t suggest that it had been driven into a pond.

The same lawyer, however, could not win a reprieve in another case which had shocked the country in 2013, despite submitting seven petitions to show that his client, a medical student, had not poisoned his roommate by contaminating the dormitory water cooler. The student, who claimed it was a prank not meant to kill, was executed in 2015.


In China, if a death sentence has been handed down without reprieve, the Supreme Court must approve the execution. Last year, the government enacted a legal aid law for those who can’t afford lawyers. A free legal aid centre was set up by the ministry of justice specifically for death penalty review cases. A few law firms have assigned lawyers to this centre. But the death sentence has been rarely overturned.

As in India, the general public in China favours the death penalty. People were satisfied with last month’s execution of a driver who disregarded a red light and drove his BMW into pedestrians in May 2021, killing 5 and injuring 8. The 35-year-old wanted to “take revenge on society” for the failure of his investments. Similarly, the execution in March of a man who had smothered his wife in 2020 and chopped her body, an incident reminiscent of the Shraddha Walkar case, was considered fair. The man lodged a missing complaint and even went on TV announcing a reward for anyone who found her. The police finally found her body parts in the building’s septic tank, and concluded from CCTV footage that she had not left her home.

In contrast, the 9-year sentence handed down to a man who had kept his wife chained by the neck in an open shed has provoked outrage for being too lenient. The man claimed that the wife, who had borne him 8 children, often turned aggressive. Forced by public anger to investigate after a video of the shackled woman went viral, police found that the woman had been sold many times over since 1996. Her mental faculties had started deteriorating since 2012. Yet, she gave birth to five children after that. Five persons involved in selling her were given sentences of 10 to 13 years. China’s human trafficking law treats sellers harshly; the maximum sentence is death. For buyers, it’s just 3 years.

However, a sentence of 24 years handed down to a man who, along with his friends, had beaten a group of women in a restaurant last year after one of them rejected his advances, is being seen as too harsh. The court, though, has taken into account the man’s criminal career — he headed a gang involved in gambling and robbery. While most death penalties are given for murder, in a shocking case, a high-ranking official was sentenced to death last September for corruption to the tune of 3 billion yuan.

China is said to top the list of executions worldwide. But with the government itself having introduced free legal aid for reviews of death sentences, hope exists.

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